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The Life of Samuel Johnson (English Library) Paperback – Abridged, 31 May 1979


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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Abridged edition edition (31 May 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140431160
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140431162
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 219,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Book Description

Abridged, with an Introduction, by Bergen Evans, The Powell-Hill text --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

James Boswell's 'Life of Samuel Johnson' is the most celebrated biography in the English language. Rooted in a close personal relationship that began with their meeting in Tom Davie's bookshop in 1763, and reinforced by meticulous research amongst Johnson's extensive circle of friends, Boswell's biography places vividly before us a memorable portrait of the dominant English literary figure of the eighteenth century – his strengths together with his weaknesses, his triumphs as well as his misfortunes. An astonishingly prolific writer who had regularly to struggle with bouts of apathy and black despair, melancholic yet at his best in lively company, dogmatic but possessed of towering common sense, overbearing yet capable of remarkable kindness, Johnson's character is here immortalised in all its rich complexity.

--This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

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Two or three years ago readers of The Times Literary Supplement were entertained by one of those quarrels that occasionally erupt in its correspondence columns. Read the first page
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Adrian Stear on 8 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Everybody knows some of Dr Johnson's pithy sayings. It's worthwhile sitting down and reading the complete collection at some time in your life, I'm just sorry I didn't get round to it sooner...
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Amazon.com: 22 reviews
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Great Book (Bad Edition) 24 Jun. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Needless to say, Boswell's LIFE OF JOHNSON is one of the preeminent works of biography and should be read by anyone interested in Johnson or the genre. It is a great book (also great is W. Jackson Bate's SAMUEL JOHNSON [1st published 1975]which is a MUST for anyone interested in Johnson). But although I love the Everyman's Library, I do not recommend this edition of Boswell. Unlike the usual quality of the Everyman's Library, its Boswell is rife with typographical errors (there's even missing text!). Though it's the only edition of Boswell I've read, I regret that a correct edition is not on my bookshelf. That being said, if this is the only affordable hardcover version you can find -- and you buy only hardcovers -- go ahead and purchase the Everyman's despite the numerous and distracting errors.
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
nice but heavily abridged 11 Jan. 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I liked this but prefer the unabridged edition published by Oxford University Press (in their Oxford World's Classics series). If you're willing to read Boswell, spend a few dollars more for the OUP edition.
69 of 83 people found the following review helpful
In retrospect, it depends on what you want out of this. 18 Aug. 2000
By Frank Lynch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Almost two years ago, I gave this five stars. On reading much more about Boswell and his procedures, I have to qualify my earlier review. If you want a book about Johnson that tells how one man saw him, then yes, it still merits five stars. If you want a full perspective of Johnson - - as the word biography would imply, I'd downgrade it to three stars. So on balance, four.
There are of course many positives, or I wouldn't have given it 5 stars two years ago. Boswell had a strong talent for recording Johnson's conversations, and they are wonderful. Some of them are down right hilarious! Boswell was also a bit of a dramatist, setting up situations such as Johnson's meeting with Wilkes, placing bets over whether he would challenge Johnson on his habit of hiding orange peels. And Boswell could tell a story very dramatically - - it's his dramatic skills and memory which have been the basis on which his champions have defended him.
However, as a 'biography' this leaves much to be desired. Not just the issue of scope, with some 80% of the pages being on 20 years of Johnson's life. Boswell just wasn't a biographer, his story is too personal, he inadequately integrates important opinions, and he suppresses important information that's inconsistent with his rather simple view of Johnson. As Richard Schwartz has excellently pointed out, Boswell has presented us with an unshaped series of details, where data do not converge to a whole, and remain undigested.
Inaccuracies: Boswell tells us early on that he sometimes scurried across London to verify a date, but he apparently wouldn't consult a perpetual calendar; there are a number of occasions where his dates don't align with the day of week, yet his certainty in dating events make it all sound so true. And there is the famous blooper of his putting Johnson at Oxford for three years, rather than one. The inaccuracies would not be such an issue were it not for the fact that Boswell positions himself as being definitive, and condemns the efforts of John Hawkins and Hester Thrale as being inaccurate. Both of them saw aspects of Johnson whihc Boswell never had the depth to see and understand.
Repositioning: Boswell the story teller shaped events... There is an important event where Johnson meets the King in the King's library. Boswell makes it sound as if the King was completely focused on Johnson, and no one else was there - - as if it was a private audience (yet it certainly wasn't). To read this book, you would think that Boswell was one of the most important people in Johnson's life; while Boswell certainly mattered to Johnson, there are very few descriptions of Johnson's life without Boswell, as if Johnson were more dependent on Boswell than the reverse. But the total number of days they were together was a very small fraction of Johnson's life.
Suppression of details: Boswell is so intent on describing Johnson's devotion to his departed wife, that he never tells us that Johnson had hoped to remarry, or that later in life he made advances to a memebr of his household. Boswell also won't relay lifelong friend Edmund Hector's concern that at one point Johnson was so depressed that Hector feared it might shorten his life. These details don't fit Boswell's simple view of Johnson - - and when someone like Anna Seward would send him anecdotes with a disturbing tone, Boswell wrote it off to "prejudice." We also know now that Hawkins, who knew Johnson long before Boswell, wrote a bio of Johnson that has been unfairly eclipsed, largely because of Boswell's treatment and Boswell's unquestioned authority.
Even for the years that Boswell -did- know Johnson, his record is far from complete. Johnson recovered from one major period of depression by being immersed in family life with the Thrales, yet Boswell never spent much time at their household, and so never really saw that 'family' side of Johnson.
Should you avoid this like the plague? No, not at all. But the full unabridged edition represents quite a commitment, and you might be better off reading the abridged version, and spending the time saved by reading Bate's biogrpahy, or even Johnson's own writings.
(In writing this review, I've been very influenced by various books & articles by Donald Greene & Richard Schwartz; I've also tried to be sensitive to the defenses of such Boswell defenders as Frederick Pottle.)
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A Great Book, Funny and Profound 3 Dec. 2007
By Wanderer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Note: I made some immature Mormon angry because of my negative reviews of books that attempted to prove the Book of Mormon, and that person has been slamming my reviews almost as fast as they are posted.

I must have really burned him or her because I've deleted this review and re-posted it and within an hour, I had a "not helpful" vote. Give me a break. That person's faith must be very fragile, indeed. Oh, well.

I'm trying to be "helpful," and you can see that it took some work to put this review together.

So, your "helpful" votes are appreciated. Thanks, and I hope you find some enjoyable quotations (below) from Boswell's wonderful book, but first a little history.

Samuel Johnson, the irascible but generous lexicographer of the eighteenth century, is mostly remembered because of Boswell, and Boswell is remembered because he wrote Johnson's biography.

At the time, Johnson was already famous for his "Dictionary of the English Language," an impressive work for the year 1755. Among many other writings, Johnson put out an edition of Shakespeare's works (1765), with valuable notes that are still referred to today.

Johnson published a "series of grave and moral discourses" in the periodical called the Rambler, but when it was translated into Italian, it came out as the ludicrous "El Vagabondo," something far from Johnson's pious intentions. And of good intentions, it was Johnson who said, "Sir, Hell is paved with good intentions."

"(Johnson's) defense of tea against Mr. Jonas Hanway's violent attack upon that elegant and popular beverage, shows how very well a man of genius can write upon the slightest subject, when he writes, as the Italians say, con amore."

Johnson despised Americans and was prejudiced against Scotland. He said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."

Johnson was a male chauvinist. Yet, he was "a king of men." He was a "robust genius, born to grapple with whole libraries," and although "indolence and procrastination were inherent in his constitution, whenever he made an exertion he did more than any one else."

As a person who is afraid of death in the normal sense, I was surprised that in spite of being very religious, Johnson had an extreme fear of death. "'The better a man is, the more afraid he is of death, having a clearer view of infinite purity.' Said Boswell, "Johnson owned, that our being in an unhappy uncertainty as to our salvation, was mysterious; and said, 'Ah! We must wait till we are in another state of being, to have many things explained to us.' Even the powerful mind of Johnson seemed foiled by futurity."

Boswell's commentary brings to mind a story told by St. Augustine in his monumental City of God. A philosopher was abroad a ship captained by a bad man, and after a violent storm, the fearless captain jeered the philosopher for his terror. Said the philosopher, quoting from a similar incident that occurred to the pagan Aristippus, 'A rogue need not worry about losing his worthless life, but Aristippus has a duty to care for a life like his."

"Johnson knew more books than any man alive. He had a peculiar facility in seizing at once what was valuable in any book, without submitting to the labour of perusing it from beginning to end." But he also held that it was important to "read diligently the great book of mankind."

"Why, Sir, I am a man of the world. I live in the world, and I take, in some degree, the color of the world as it moves along."

Johnson was also the one who said, "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

"I love Blair's Sermons," Johnson said. "Though the dog is a Scotchman, and a Presbyterian, and every thing that he should not be, I was the first to praise them. Such was my candor," he said with a smile."
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
One of the Lions of England 16 Aug. 2007
By Neri - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
'No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,' Samuel Johnson.
Sorry, it is a hobby.

Samuel Johnson the writer of the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language, which was a very big deal in his day as the elite felt the English language was in decline due to it being influenced by so many foreign influences and the marvel of Samuel Johnson's efforts and method of writing made him, according to Lord Chesterfield Lord Chesterfield's Letters (Oxford World's Classics), as someone to be deferred to as the "Caesar" of the English language. Samuel Johnson, along with his friend and former pupil David Garrick, helped place Shakespeare as the permanent king of the English language; further, Johnson was a great and singular essayist and has an eternal place as a minor poet of the English language. His dictionary shot Johnson into the inner circle of elite in English society.

Boswell's "Life of Samuel Johnson" is a fascinating read as Boswell traces Johnson's life story. Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke, a friend of his, and together the center of English political and cultural life with the 'Literary Club' that they had both started were big players in forming the English reaction to the major liberal events going on in their day and could be said to be the fathers of modern conservatism. They were alive to face the genesis of modern liberalism, in the form of Jean Jacque Rousseau along with the American Revolution, theirs was the conservative response. 'What hypocrites are the drivers of negroes to be demanding liberty,' Johnson in reference to the Americans. (It is funny that Samuel Johnson was against slavery while the more liberal Boswell was for it). Although, I know Edmund Burke felt England to be in the reconcilable wrong with the American Revolution Edmund Burke's Speech on conciliation with the American colonies,: Delivered in the House of commons, March 22, 1775; ed., with notes and a study plan ... I. Crane (Twentieth century text-books) the Doctor, Samuel Johnson, did not and felt the Revolutionaries hypocritical ingrates. What is good about conservatism lays with these two fellows, Burke and Johnson. It is also amusing that Johnson's conservativism included the observation that countries should be judged by the condition in which their poor lived, disapprobation given to the worse.

Samuel Johnson came from very humble roots and his early life was spent in modest means, fortunately he was surrounded by books. His first years in London were quite a struggle, near pennyless, sometimes sleeping on the streets. The money he ended up getting for writing the dictionary wasn't much in the end, it was the fame that got him some wealth.

A marvelous read. Giving advice about the legal profession, education: his advice - just do it; habits form early and habits are hard to break... lots of interesting views from how to conduct oneself socially (Boswell seemed in constant search of this) to political commentary (one of my favorite was his advice on being weary of those that wrap themselves in the flag)... too much to write about. Boswell, when he first meets Johnson is so filled with awe and reverance but it mellows out some, he even starts playing games with the Doctor; however, he always greatly respects him but the idolitry disipates.

Although Samuel Johnson's conservativeness and strong opinions might turn people off I find it refreshing compared to the stealth tactics of politics today. Politicians don't say what they mean and that is also probably why the Doctor was discouraged from entering politics in his day by some close friends with ties in that area, somethings change only by degree. James Boswell, the author, didn't agree with the Doctor all the time but appreciated the hard, realistic way of looking at things and amusingly delivered (mostly by quirky analogies) that Samuel Johnson did.

Then Boswell is a story in himself. Boswell's Rousseau-ist fever for the notions of the 'Noble Savage, Natural Man' The Noble Savage: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1754-1762 was interesting also; his generation caught it and he had strong sentiments towards it despite Johnson's arguments against its reasoning. This fever also, at the least, lent cover to the American Revolution.

Johnson could only afford one year of college. Received an honarary Doctorate for his dictionary.

One of the books one should read before they turn 20.

The best synopsis of Rousseau and in his own words is probably 'Creed of a Priest of Savoy' The Essential Rousseau (Essentials)
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